Skip to content

Blog / 5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy (A Live Discussion from ETS)

5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy (A Live Discussion from ETS)

We live-blogged the session on 5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy this morning, which took place at the 65th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore, MD.

5 Views on Biblical InerrancyThe panel featured R. Albert Mohler,  Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, a video from Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and John R. Franke, who are contributors to a new book on biblical inerrancy in the Counterpoints series from Zondervan.

The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is mentioned below. You can find its full text hereZondervan Academic (@ZonderAcademic)


11:49 — The session has ended. If you’d like to learn more about these speakers’ views on inerrancy, check out their new book 5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy.


11:45 — MOHLER: Would God give inaccurate information in a revelation to us? No. But in revelation he would give us information that we can see, can hear, and can know.


11:43 — Question: Are there methodologies “outside the tent”? If so, which are unclean?

MOHLER: Any methodology that denies the truth of Scripture.


11:42 — ENNS: [The battle of] Jericho is a major problem… And it’s not just [a problem] in the Bible. What kind of a God is this, that we meet?


11:38Question: How large of a place did biblical scholars hold in forming the CSBI, versus systematists?

MOHLER: It was largely biblical scholars.

ENNS: I can say, I think my discipline affects how I see things.


11:37 — MOHLER: I don’t think there is any thinker who only thinks inductively or deductively. We make both of those kinds of moves.


11:35 — FRANKE: I am willing to use the word inerrancy. But I work with a class of people who don’t like the word inerrancy, and when I use it, they think I am a fundamentalist. They may be willing to say “authoritative” and work with that.

BIRD: The issue is not the word we use. The real issue is whether people think the claims of Scripture are negotiable.


11:30 — Question: Are there divine and human parts of Scripture?

MOHLER: I don’t accept the premise that there are divine and human parts of Scripture. When you encounter Scripture, it is God’s word even though human authors were involved. Scripture is where God speaks.


11:29 — Question: Albert Mohler, could you convince me why inerrancy is necessary for my preaching?

MOHLER: I think affirming the total trustworthiness of Scripture is the preacher’s mode. Inerrancy is not what is to be preached, but it is what will be encountered when understanding the text and its contexts.


11:25Question: Does Peter Enns believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the Exodus?

ENNS: I believe in the death and resurrection of Christ as a person of faith. The Exodus is something that can be studied. You can’t prove resurrection.


11:22Question: Is there a heretical gospel in this plural world?

FRANKE: Yes, there are false gospels.

BIRD: If you don’t use the same grammar and terminology as others, inerrancy can be a good toolbox for discussion.


11:21 — Opening up to Audience Q&A.


11:20 — BIRD: Maybe if we had a broader segment, we’d have a more comprehensive, wider theological source from which to address inerrancy.


11:18 — FRANKE: This [conference] is a very narrow segment of even North American evangelicalism. That’s a burning issue to me, related to the gospel.

If we have frameworks that are keeping others from wrestling with important questions regarding evangelicalism — which is about the gospel — then that becomes a justice issue.


11:14 — ENNS: The complaint against Gundry was that he de-historicized the text.


11:12 — BIRD: Who are the gatekeepers on inerrancy? This is one of my concerns. Because I don’t want to see a situation where we could exclude a lot of people whose theology we don’t like.


11:10 — MOHLER: We’re not saying ETS is coterminous with Christianity. We’re not saying ETS is completely coterminous with evangelicalism.


11:08 — BIRD: Given the way evangelicalism has changed over the last 30 years, is it time to invite Robert Gundry back? [In 1983, Robert Gundry resigned from ETS over issues of inerrancy.]


11:05 — Panel Question 3: How does inerrancy teach us to relate to Scripture? How does it teach us to relate to other proponents of inerrancy?


11:03 — MOHLER: The principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture … is the way for Scripture to preach. So [let us] do theology and do exegesis.


11:00 — ENNS: One question for me is, how do I get to where you’re going? How can systematic theology and biblical theology have a true conversation with each other?


10:58 — BIRD: We see diversity within the canon. But that plurality cannot be overemphasized at the expense of Scripture’s unity.


10:55 — MOHLER: We have one gospel and one Christ. Plurality is not required.

FRANKE: I affirm much of that. But is oneness also sameness?


10:53 — FRANKE: I think Scripture requires plurality. The phenomenon of Scripture itself does. And since Scripture is true, then we have a witness to plurality within truth. And what we have is a plural church.


10:51 — MOHLER: Franke is right about how our assumptions shape how we hear one another’s points about inerrancy.

I must also say, I don’t think context requires plurality. It does require a humble admission of our contextualized humanity.


10:47 — ENNS: The way in which God speaks into the communities of faith in the Old Testament, then the movement into the New Testament — I want to try to capture that movement.

FRANKE: You can still speak truthfully within different settings. I don’t think there is error in Scripture, but its truthfulness is shaped by its contexts. You can speak truthfully, honestly, within a particular setting.

How does this affect traditional notions of systematic theology?


10:43 — Second Panel Question: How does the Bible speak beyond its finite human authors?


10:42 — BIRD: It’s useful to look into what resources a lot of these international churches are using [to discuss the trustworthiness of Scripture].


10:40 — MOHLER: I’m not asking people to answer questions they haven’t asked. But even if people do not use a certain word, that does not mean that the issue is not present.

Inerrancy is not the strongest word about Scripture, and I’m an inerrantist.


10:38 — FRANKE: In light of Bird’s contention that inerrancy is not important outside of America, what is Mohler’s view on the centrality of inerrancy for evangelicalism?


10:35 — MOHLER: Enns’ incarnational model would ascribe fallibility to Jesus.

ENNS: I don’t believe Jesus was omniscient.


10:30 — Enns asks Bird to comment on his view of Enns’  incarnational model.

BIRD: I can grant that Enns’ incarnational model is an analogy.


10:29 — ENNS: Revelation is accomodation. [Michael Bird also stated this.] But “the devil is in the details.”

When I look at the messiness of how God speaks, it makes me want to read the Bible more.


10:27 — FRANKE: Is there a difference between “continuously normative” and “pure”? Is there room for a plurality of communications of the gospel in different contexts?


10:25 — MOHLER: Revelation is accomodation. But the revelation is not accomodated. Revelation is not as if an adult were speaking to a child.


10:22First Panel Discussion Question: To what extent is God’s revelation accomodated to human authors and human readers, and how does that affect the doctrine of inerrancy?

Panel Discussion

Photo: Chad Spellman (@chadspellman). Used by permission.


10:20 — The panel discussion is beginning. It will have three focuses.

  1. The nature of inerrancy as a doctrine.
  2. Convergences and divergences among the panelists’ views on inerrancy.
  3. The ethics of inerrancy.


10:01 — Pause for a brief intermission. Next, the panel discussion and then audience Q&A.


9:58 — FRANKE: Scripture is a series of contextually faithful witnesses. Inerrancy should not be used to suggest that language transcends its context.

Scripture consists of truth. It is truth-written, but its pages bear witness to the plurality of truth. Scripture invites even greater plurality, under the work of the Holy Spirit, in proclaiming its message throughout the world.


9:54 — FRANKE: Each human language is shaped by the social circumstances in which the language emerges.

Scripture is truthful, but still contextual.


9:52 — FRANKE: God is unity in plurality and plurality in unity. This unity does not seek to make different things the same.

As finite creatures, we are not able to grasp the truth as God, who is truth, knows that truth to be.


9:49 — FRANKE: There is a radical difference between the infinite God and his finite, created beings. There is an accomodated nature of our knowledge about him.

Also, God is love.

God is missional. The mission of God is the basis for sending the Son into the world, that we might live through him. The mission of God is continued through the churches, which are sent into the world in the pattern in which the Father sends the Son.


John R. Franke9:46 — John R. Franke takes the stage.

FRANKE: One’s view of inerrancy carries assumptions, whether they’re stated or unstated. This is one of the larger challenges of discussing inerrancy.


9:44 — VANHOOZER: [Quoting from Augustine, here’s a paraphrase.] If you come upon something in Scripture that seems to be false, you must not conclude the author has made a mistake. Rather, ask if the manuscript is faulty, or if you yourself do not understand what the author is saying.


9:41 — VANHOOZER: We must be right-minded and right-hearted readers. This is a Spirit-given kind of literacy.

We must be passionate truth seekers, and if necessary, truth sufferers.


9:40 — VANHOOZER: Well-versed inerrantists look for the speech-act meaning of the sentence. One must ask, “What is the author affirming in this context?”


9:37 — VANHOOZER: There is a fitting fidelity between God’s words and God’s deeds.

Jesus is faithfulness incarnate.

Jesus is the truth because he is God’s true and trustworthy word.

The Son is the imprint of God’s very being.

Jesus is the truth because he communicates who God is.


Kevin Vanhoozer

9:34 — VANHOOZER: We must be vigilant not to define inerrancy using our own ideals of what a perfect book would be.

By inerrancy I mean that biblical authors speak truth in all of their affirmations when right-minded and right-hearted readers read rightly.


9:32 — VANHOOZER: The gospel is only good news if it is wholly reliable.


9:30 — VANHOOZER: What is inerrancy good for? It is not a hermeneutical shortcut.

The Bible can be difficult. We should admit that. Inerrancy does not make difficulties go away. But we can still believe in the trustworthiness of every part of Scripture.


9:28 — Kevin Vanhoozer could not be here today, but he’s created a video for this event and it’s just begun. It’s entitled “Augustinian Inerrancy: A Well-Versed Account.”

VANHOOZER: Augustinian inerrancy is the way forward.


9:25 — BIRD: I think Professor Enns is correct that we need to take in mind the ancient contexts. I do think he’s a little bit too negative on critical scholarship though.

Scripture is our treasure. No matter our definition of inerrancy, we can believe Scripture is trustworthy.


Michael Bird9:21 — BIRD: Inerrancy has always had a particular American feel about it.

Internationally, conflict over inerrancy has not defined evangelicalism as it has in America.

Is inerrancy necessary? No.


9:15 — Michael Bird takes the stage. BIRD: My central contention is that American inerrancy is both a retrieval of Catholic doctrine, and a reaction against liberal theology.


9:13  — ENNS: What about references to God being a warrior? I believe in a God who meets us where we are.

In summary, inerrancy for me does not describe Scripture or what it does.


9:11 — ENNS: Scipture varies and is on the move. [For example, Old Testament references to God being greater than other gods.]


Peter Enns9:04 — ENNS: Inerrancy prescribes the Bible too narrowly because it prescribes God too narrowly.


9:01 — Peter Enns takes the stage.

ENNS: Holding onto inerrancy is a high-maintenance activity. Inerrancy is not an apt descriptor of how the Bible communicates.

Even a progressive view of inerrancy is not sufficient.


8:59 — MOHLER: When you think about the context in which the CSBI was created [in the 1970s], we’re still answering the same questions.

The CSBI is the quintessential statement of inerrancy.


8:50 — MOHLER: Without inerrancy, evangelicalism will become dissolute. I do not believe evangelicalism can survive without explicit commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.


R. Albert Mohler8:46 — Al Mohler takes the stage. His position is entitled “Classical Inerrancy is Necessary for Evangelical Integrity.”

“When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is inerrant.


8:36 — James R. A. Merrick is now introducing the session, and later Stephen M. Garrett will moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. Garrett and Merrick are general editors of the book 5 Views of Biblical Inerrancy.

Merrick explains they wanted the contributors to focus on inerrancy as doctrine, which serves faith by providing understanding. Some questions that we’ll discuss:

  1. Does inerrancy teach us that God’s truth is mere accuracy?
  2. How does God’s truth relate to Scripture?
  3. Why does God inspire Scripture?

The speakers convene

Photo: Andrew King (@aking443). Used by permission.

8:31 — The speakers have entered, and after a brief private chat are now taking their seats on the stage.

I can see Albert Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael Bird, and John Franke. I’ve been informed that Kevin Vanhoozer could not be present, so he has prepared a video to show in his stead.


8:23 — The session will start in about ten minutes. The room holds about 500 chairs, and is filling quickly.

Filed under Events, Guest Post, The Bible